One of the Big Questions that may have crossed your mind recently is where your place is in the world. Work forms a substantial part of your life.

As you head towards the final stages of the educational arc, discovering what would instil you with a sense of purpose, utilise your strengths and give you the opportunities you desire in a career, is key to your journey.

Some, have a sustained pull towards a certain path, however, others may not have yet have made up their minds as to where their future lies.
This stage beckons a period of discovery in different sectors and roles to understand what best suits you. Undertaking work experience will help you understand different professions and industries, and give insights into potential directions. It’s a source of invaluable information – for example, whether you are more suited to a large, corporate organisation or a smaller company will help pin down the types of careers in which you can thrive.

University careers services provide support and advice on how to find internships, placements and voluntary work as well as give pointers on how to create CVs and cover letters. Employers value transferable skills and any job, no matter the field, is a valuable opportunity to experience, use and hone competencies such as business awareness, leadership, commercial and communication skills. Find out how Zahra has benefited from her placement at Aston University.

Work experience while at university is just the start- your period of discovery could extend beyond that into the world of graduate roles and mid-term jobs. Career paths are often anything but tidy and predictable and belie the assumption that young people should decide with finality in their early twenties what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

Often some of the roles you experience when you graduate may not be right for you. These stepping stone jobs are gateways to open portals into other sectors or professions, which are crying out for the skills, knowledge and experience you are developing. Making the best use of your time doing a job, even though you know it will be a position you will want to move on from sooner or later, can reap rewards. You never know when your acquired skills may come in handy.

One famous example is of the late Steve Jobs (former CEO of Apple), who talked about taking a calligraphy class in his address to Stanford University students in 2005:

“I decided to take a calligraphy class… I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful. Historical. Artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture. And I found it fascinating. None of this had any hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me.

“And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would never have multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”

Anything you learn, any skill you develop, can impact on your future. James, from London, took what he learnt from diverse roles in different sectors, on his onward journey:

“After some self-directed work experience in response to struggling to find meaningful employment I secured a role in PR. It was a massive departure from the retail environments and arts degree I was more familiar with. I learnt so much about the unspoken conventions of “the office”.

The skills I learnt there helped me negotiate successful pathways through several public sector roles in the civilian side of policing and the administrative side of healthcare. I now work in the higher education sector and I have applied my learning in a very lateral way, and feel secure in the knowledge that I have a built up a breadth of rounded experience and the confidence that goes with it. I certainly feel that nothing I have learnt, even doing jobs which didn’t suit me so well, was wasted.”

There is no set course for your career path. You may move through several sectors – public, private or third (charity) sector. Or you may stick to a profession in different industries, for example legal skills are used in industries as diverse as retail, hospitality, defence etc. A broad span of experience across several sectors and industries will mean that you have tasted work-life in several modes and will not be thinking that you have missed out on any particular path.

What matters is your knowledge and experience, which consistently needs to be built on and refreshed in each job you have. Once in a role, it’s important not to base your work around one single talent – try and develop as many strings to your bow as possible.

You may take a few diversions and roundabout paths too. For example, many people try sabbaticals and secondments, work abroad or volunteer. You can sharpen talents outside work instead of focusing solely on skills that employers want.

Once you have found a position you are happy with, and there is no upper age limit as to when this will happen, you can bring all those talents, knowledge and experience you have picked up on the way, to your fulfilling job.

By Anamika Bhatt, National Centre Digital Networks Manager.
The National Centre is creating BrandU, a work experience platform for university students to launch in Autumn 2017. More information will be posted shortly, watch this space!